Friday, June 4, 2010

Announcing: Ladies on the Battlefield Week!

Sometimes various facets of life all start to reflect the same image--and when that happens I want to blog about it! Facet One: While enjoying the cool evening last weekend at a reenactment, we were playing music and singing, and two friends of mine introduced me to a fabulous new song. In it, the coy heroine dresses as a boy and enlists on a ship to find her lover. Then I get back, and find Facet Two: this post over at Two Nerdy History Girls (interjection: Read this blog! No, really, go do it!) about a woman enlisting on shipboard.

And I love a story about a scrappy woman tossing in on a good row. So I though--why not take a week to go in depth on a few more of those stories? And separate a bit of myth from fact if we can?

Looking forward to posting every day next week--Ladies on the Battlefield (or ship...and maybe a frontier cabin or two...and they might not necessarily be "ladies" per se...).

Until then, the lyrics from the song that tipped this whole thing off:

Billy Taylor

Billy Taylor was a sailor,
Full of joy and beauty gay.
'Stead of Billy getting married,
He was pressed and forced away.

But the bride soon followed after
Under the name of Richard Carr;
Snow white fingers, long and slender,
All covered o'er wi' pitch and tar.

One day in the heat of battle
Shot and shell was flying there,
A silver button flew off her waistcoat
Left her snowy white breast bare.

Then up spoke the gallant captain,
"What ill fortune brought you here?"
"I come in search of Billy Taylor
Whom you pressed the other year."

"If you'll rise early in the morning,
Early by the break of day,
There you'll see your Billy Taylor
Walking out with a lady gay."

She rose early the next morning,
Early by the break of day.
There she saw her Billy Taylor
Walking out with a lady gay.

Gun and pistol she's commanded,
Gun and pistol by her side.
She has shot young Billy Taylor
Walking out with his new-made bride.

When the captain did behold her
And the deed that she had done,
He has made her chief commander
O'er a ship and a hundred men.

The best part about this song that you can't see here is the shock, surprise, and enjoyment produced by that second to last verse. Open laughter and clapping at that point.

Did this story as told in the song really happen? Probably not. But it does show that the fascination with women posing as men or participating in warfare isn't relegated to modern times--this was a popular song, recorded on broadsides and widely varied from the early eighteenth century onward. My favorite part about this version is the respect the woman is given at the end for her pluck--not scolded or shamed, but rewarded.


Marg said...

Very cool idea for a theme week! I will be reading along. I also enjoy reading the Two Nerdy History Girls blogs.

Corra McFeydon said...

Oh, that's fascinating! How about the women who fought undercover as men in the American Civil War? Some weren't found out until they were bured. Sad, but very interesting. :)

- Corra

the victorian heroine

Arabella said...

Did you ever see King Arthur with Keira Knightley as Guinevere? I always wondered if it was true that Welsh women painted themselves blue and fought in battle with the men.

Cool song. I like the twist at the end--she's promoted rather than hanged.

Rowenna said...

Corra--like that, definitely! I've always been fascinated that we only of most of these women because they were wounded--but how many served their enlistement, were never wounded, and slipped into obscurity?

Arabella--I did! There was one famous Celtic warrior woman named Boudica who fought against the Romans (I think...). And legend has it that many women of her tribe joined in fighting. I think, by the way, that my husband liked that movie better than I did, mainly for Miss K's costuming ;)

Thanks for reading, Marg!

taketimetoshine said...

I look forward to reading the themes - I've never been much of a history fan but I think the specific theme is very interesting :)

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